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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Two faces of cruelty

Cruelty has many faces. Disasters and other natural events are sometimes called as cruelty of nature. Nature in no way is cruel.Animals and birds too are not cruel in real sense of the term. In my opinion cruelty is found only in some human beings though being cruel is inhuman.Isn't it very strange that those doing such acts are called humans?

Some of our activities are sure to bring blame of being cruel, though these acts, for sure, are not done under any type of thought. Throwing plastic cans with eatable items can be regarded as act of cruelty as it can trap someone into great trouble.

Here are two pictures scanned earlier at different times from different sources are enough to show at least two faces of cruelty and the first one is the ugliest.

Picture -1

Picture -2

Traffic congestion in Ranchi

Long ago in 1985, while walking on the main road in Ranchi, then called as the summer capital of Bihar state of India, I had asked a question to my companion, a manager in a dairy farm. That question was, “Why do the traffic police hang roped in the middle of the road here and there in this city?” He answered immediately and the answer was, “To teach the road users how to use the road”.

I was not satisfied with the answer as I had taken it more as a remark than an answer. After five years, the manager of the dairy farm was transferred to some other station. I don’t know where he is at the present time. But the question is still in my mind as the rope is still on the road, dividing the road users in two streams. I don’t understand who should go through which track as I am unable to distinguish the public or the vehicles moving through these two tracks in the same direction. If you say that the track touching the middle line of the road is meant for cars and other motorized vehicles; I see that rickshaws, cyclists and pedestrians also move on that track? If you say that the track touching the outer border of the road is meant for pedestrians and cyclists; I see speedy bikes, scooters, cycles and yes pedestrians, all move through this track. I see cyclists competing with scooters, rickshaws competing with other rickshaws and sometimes or most often overtaking them also, along the same track. I am bitterly confused. I cannot learn the rule of the road simply by observing the road users of this city.

Many things have changed since Ranchi became the capital of the newly formed state, Jharkhand. A portion of the Bihar state was cut out on 15th November 2000 to form this state for which the people of the land had been raising their voices from time to time. No sooner than Ranchi became the state capital, the traffic on its roads increased and increased and kept on increasing and is keeping it up. I recall, once a child holding his father’s finger while they were walking in the morabadi ground asked, “Dad, where are these people rushing to?” “They are not rushing, they are going to different destinations they have to go as they have already walked after rising early in this morning” the father of the child had said. The city awakes earlier than I and you. May be that it will not sleep at all after some time. It may be seen running all the time, as many other cities do. But, which way to run...? Through the track touching the middle line of the road, or through the track touching the outer boundary of it? How to overtake … through right side or through the left side? Or … through any side we find space?

Earlier, rickshaws in Ranchi used to move along the road on a single row. But now the rule has changed in spite of the unchanged trend of keeping ropes along the roads. Motor bikes were few in number and many smart, robust and well built men used to drive them. Cars and similar means of transport were few in number and many people used to share a single one. Today, bikes are uncountable and so are cars also. Sharing a single car by three to four persons is out of fashion. Everyone has to move in his own car.

Bicycle has been marginalized. Teenagers go for tuitions or for coaching classes on bikes. Since time is precious, they cannot compromise with speed. Since roads do not teach the lesson of how to use them, any one can move along any track demonstrating all types of motion- linear, random, zigzag, circular, and semicircular or even any type invented by the driver himself. For a traffic police, it is not so important a job, and sometimes risky too. People of high profiles live in the capital city, and he knows that a poor man cannot afford sending his sons and daughters to attend costly coaching, or tuitions even on bicycles, nothing to talk about motor bikes. If in government service, service is the first in his priority list. He can not risk his service for a law breaking teenager boy. Someone from you may ask, “Do all the police men know the rules of the road?” “Certainly”, I will have to say as I too cannot take risk.

First victims of climate change

Talks on the global issue of climate change have gained sufficient momentum so far and it may be expected that a great momentum may transform a great quantum of potential energy to do some great work in its direction. But, exceptions may continue till the talks continue. Not all countries, developed and the developing, have equal will powers and determinations, plans and strategies to crack the nut.

Under these conditions nothing sure in respect of time and level can be expected in the near future. On the remote ends of the world the poor including tribal and scheduled castes that neither pollute nor talk, rather who don’t know even about the problem have been unknowingly suffering from it for more than a decade.

The poor have to suffer first when their lands are acquired for any mini- or mega project. Though they usually don’t get any benefit from such projects, they are forced to migrate elsewhere loosing the resources they traditionally depended on from generations. What they get are permanent suffering and long- sometimes lifelong struggle for rehabilitation, in spite of excellent planning and formulation presented in the government papers. They cannot derive benefits from forests nor can they rear goats and sheep to sustain them due to the disappearance of the village commons. The common lands gave already been donated by the government to the certified poor. The poor with some land have already punished by the green revolution. The white revolution too, could do no help to them as the rich and affluent jumped into the milk business with exotic and high yielding cows and buffaloes. The desi cow remained their companion and gradually they became too resource less to keep them well. The poor cow was sold to the butcher.

The poor have always been non-contributors or fewer contributors to carbon emission but still they have to suffer due to changes in the climate. They have always been punished for the mistakes of others, so here is no wonder if they are first sufferers of the impacts of climate change. The sources of livelihood of these people have already been squeezed and the climate change has taken the form of double punishment in spite of the fact that others are guilty.
The tribal communities inhabiting remote villages have been reported to face gradual drying up of sources of their livelihood, and springs due to climate change. Drying up of springs and failures of monsoons has reduced the flow of water in the Baitarani River in Orissa. The drying up of glaciers in Himalayan region has already put a number of communities living along hill slopes. Drought in Palamu region of Jharkhand has already killed a number of cattle due to the lack of fodder and water. A number of children have been reported to die off hunger and mal nutrition I this region and also in many other regions of the state. The unequal distribution of monsoon in many areas of different Indian states, have resulted into droughts and floods for last four to five years.

The Civil Society Coalition of Climate Justice and Equitable Development, eastern region have documented some of the serious impacts of climate change on marginalized sections of the people. The condition of the poor inhabiting remote areas of Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh etc. has been found to be tragic. Thus poor are the first sufferers of changes in the environment though they are the least responsible people for such changes.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Black carbon - more responsible for the melting of Himalyan glaciers than carbon dioxide

Reports though unconfirmed, reveal that a number of glaciers located at a height of about 18,380 feet have already been receded over the years. Scientists like Professor Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a leading glaciologist and a senior fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) is of the opinion that the regional rate of melting of Himalyan glaciers is hard to study due to absence of any benchmark glacial studies and data in the last 60 years. Any fruitful study on melting of ice and receding Himalyan glaciers can be done only after developing benchmark and the contribution of melting of glaciers to the water flow in the rivers.

Scientists have selected four glaciers for a benchmark study. These glaciers are located in Zanskar, Kashmir valley, Himachal Pradesh, and Sikkim respectively. This selection for the benchmark study has been done on the basis of advice received from the World Glacial Monitoring Station located at Zurich.

Prof. Hasnain is studying on the Himalyan Ice Climate and Black Carbon Aerosol Impacts on water resources. His study is reported to be inspired by the study of Prof. V. Ramanathan’s study on Atmospheric brown clouds and the role of black carbon.

Scientists have started measuring the black carbon in the Himalyan atmosphere t5hrough the application of aethalometer installed at East Rathong glacier at 4,700m. It is the opinion of scientists that the concentration of black carbon is high in the Western Himalyas which is basically due to the emissions from the transport sector. It has been reported that diesel when adulterated with kerosene accelerates the emission of black carbon which poses a major threat to the fragile environment at high altitudes.

The Union Environment Minister, Government of India has asked Prof. Hasnain to submit a project to measure yearly carbon emission – reports The Hindu in its issue of 12 November. The black carbon is considered as an important pollution to accelerate global warming and speeding up the climate change. Hence, some policy commitment is needed before COP 15 in Copenhagen – as per the minister.

Scientists at WWF and BIT extension centre, Jaipur have reported through their studies –“Witnessing change: Glaciers in the Indian Himalyas” that smaller glaciers in Kumaon region are retreating at faster rate. Gangotri the larger glacier has been reported to show “continuous recessionary trend in recent years, as reported by Singh et al., 2006. According to Dr. Rajesh Kumar of BIT extension Centre Jaipur, there is a sharp retreating trend and the latest figure of retreat for the Gangotri glacier is 17.19m per year. It has already been reported through another study that Gangotri glacier has already retreated 20m so far. The current status of the glacier has been assessed to be 29.5 km long. Environmentalists are of the opinion that the current trend of retreating glaciers due to the deposition of black carbon is a bad sign for glaciers of Himalyas and needs detailed study. These studies are to be based on more and more satellite imageries and ground research.

Since it is mentioned that the black carbon is the main factor responsible for retreating glaciers, some information about it is needed to be given here. What is black carbon? Well, black carbon is the particulate pollutant formed through incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass. It is emitted in both the anthropogenic and naturally occurring soot. The rising concentration of black carbon in the Himalyan atmosphere warms the region by absorbing solar heat and also by reducing the albedo or the ability of ice to reflect the sunlight when deposited on snow and ice. Though the life of the black carbon in the atmosphere is lesser (1 week) as compared to that of carbon dioxide (more than 100 years), the deposition of black carbon on ice and snow enables these to absorb sunlight and cause ice-melts(V.Ramanathan and G. Carmichael,2008.)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Chewang Norphel,The ice-man of Ladakh brings hope to farmers

Chewang Norphel - The Ice-man

Chewang Norphel, the ice-man as he is called is the pioneer of artificial glaciers for agriculture and livelihood in Ladakh region. Mr. Norphel has pioneered the first artificial glacier in 1987 in Phuktse Phu village to increase the agricultural production resulting into increase in the income of local people. According to Mr. Norphel, the artificial glaciers will increase ground water recharge besides rejuvenating the spring water. The embankment built against the artificial glacier in the downstream under Leh Nutrition Project (LNP) started by Mr. Norphel himself, would help store water and the water thus stored would help recharge the ground water and would contribute to the irrigation of crops and apple orchards in the cold desert area of Ladakh. About 80 percent of the farmers in this region depend on the snow-melts for their needs but the receding glaciers of the region have made miserable the lives of the people. This is all due to global warming and the climate change as observed by researchers and scientists.

Chewang Norphel is a retired government civil engineer. He is fighting hard to bring water to the people of his region. He has planned to build three artificial glaciers funded by the Indian Army’s Sadbhawana Project. These three artificial glaciers have been planned to be built at a distance of about one km from the Stakmo village located in the area of Leh. The natural glacier at Stakmo has already dried up putting the people of the area in difficult situations of livelihood. The three artificial glaciers under the project are expected to store 2million cubic feet of ice between the months of November to December. Three tiered series of stone embankments that have been built are expected to guide and arrest water flow in the watershed constructed along the hill slope. The ice which usually melts by mid-April gets collected in the water shed and starts helping farmers right since the time of sowing crops.

Chewang Norphel pointing towards a dried glacier in Ladakh
(courtesy: CNN)

It is important to note here that a decline in the plant diversity is being observed in the Ladakh region since 1993. This is further resulting into a considerable decline in the diversity of animals for example the diversity of insects. The environmentalists across the country report that warmer temperatures, less snow on the mountain tops, unusually heavy spells of rain and reducing natural streams have emerged as threatening signs of the climatic change. The mean temperature has been reported to show a rising trend by 1celcius degree for winter and 5 Celsius degrees for summer between 1973 and 2008.

Under the conditions mentioned above a number of glaciers have been receded and dried up causing great hardships for water to the inhabitants of the region. Under these conditions efforts of Chewang Norphel have come to be the life saving efforts for the people of the region.

The Outlook India.com reports-Norphel has already made 10 such glaciers. His idea is simple yet striking. Using nothing more than a few hundred meters of iron pipes, stone embankments and a whole lot of ingenuity, he diverts water from a stream into a man-made channel. The channel has some 70 outlets through which water drips down the mountain slope and freezes even before it hits the retaining walls built along the lower reaches of the slope. The walls remain concealed under the glacier until April when the mercury starts rising, just the time farmers need water for their fields. It's a blessing in the cold desert that Ladakh is. Here, farmers harvest just one crop of wheat, barley or peas a year and rely mostly on glacier melt because it seldom rains in this 'desert in the skies'. The cropping window too is also a short six months after which severe winter sets in. Norphel's technique now gives them a head-start in the supply of water. Norphel's largest glacier is the one at village Phuktsey, which is 1,000 ft long, 150 ft wide and 4 ft in depth. It can supply water for the entire village of 700 people and cost Rs 90,000 to make.

Prabhash Joshi passed away

Prabhash Joshi, the noted Hindi Journalist who worked to show the real India through his bold and powerful writings up to the age of 72, passed away in the late night on 5th November, 2009 following a heart attack.

The journalism of Mr. Joshi remained multidimensional as he used to write on varying topics ranging from sports to politics. However, during the last phase of his work he remained busy in voicing the concerns and anxieties of the weaker and marginalized sections of people. Mr. Joshi worked tirelessly for the freedom of the press for which he is specially acknowledged in the world of journalism.

Prabhash Joshi was the founder editor of Jansatta, the Hindi News Paper since June 1983 though he began his journalistic career with “Nai Duniya”. He retired from Jansatta in 1995 though he remained its Chief Editorial Advisor for a long time. Mr. Joshi also worked in the field of English Journalism and remained associated with the Indian Express as its resident editor at Ahmadabad, Chandigarh, and Delhi offices. In Tehelka Hindi, he had recently launched a weekly column entitled “Aughat Ghat.”

Mr. Joshi is survived with his mother Leela Dewi, wife Usha Dewi, daughter Sonal, and sons Sandeep and Sapan. He had deep faith in the Gandhian Philosophy and originally belonged to Indore. In his condolence message Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India has expressed deep concern saying that the demise of Mr. Prabhash Joshi is a great loss to the Indian Journalism. To quote Mr. Singh – "He acquired an iconic status as the founder editor of the Hindi daily Jansatta. A whole generation of journalists drew inspiration from him, especially in questioning the current orthodoxy. In his later years, Shri Joshi worked tirelessly to give voice to the concerns and anxieties of the voiceless and marginalized. Indian journalism will be so much the poorer for his death".

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Retreating Glaciers of Tibet- a sign of Climate Change

Tibet’s glaciers have decreased by 7 percent in last four decades, says Chinese Academy of Sciences.

An estimation by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences report that Tibet’s glaciers have decreased by 7 per cent within last four decades. The director of the Qinghai Tibet Plateau Research Institute of CAS, Yao Tondong has reported to the state run Xinhua, a news agency that abrupt and exceptional warming on the plateau observed recently has been warmer than anything during the last 2000 years. This year’s massive flooding in Qinghai that has forced the villagers of the area to migrate elsewhere was on the highest scale and the researchers are of the opinion that it happened only due to increased melts of glaciers. The glacial lake in the Qinghai area burst to cause extensive damage to the communities downstream this year due to the same reason. It is important to note that the glaciers of the Tibetan plateau in the Qinghai catchment area feed the yellow river and the Yangtze River forming lifelines to the livelihood of millions in China.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that Himalayan glaciers could disappear within a period of three decades if warming at the current rate continued. The Tibet Plateau Climate Change Monitoring Service Programme has reported that Tibetan Glaciers have been receding at the rate of 131.4sq km per year and the snow lines have been retreating at the rate of 350 m per year – Qin Dahe, former director of China Meteorological Administration has said,” In the short term, this will cause lakes to expand and bring floods and mud flows in the long run. Glaciers are the vital life lines for Asian rivers such as Indus and the Ganges. Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will be in peril.”

Recently, research reports from China have revealed about the rapid retreat of glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau which is the source of many of the sub continental rivers. The report has warned of the dangers to the water supply and livelihoods of millions in India, down stream of these rivers. A research team from Greenpeace, China and volunteers of the Green Earth at Beijing have recommended the receding snowline and extensive flooding in the upper reaches of several Himalayan rivers, as a result of increased glacier melts. Li Yan of Greenpeace Campaign, China conducted a study of glacial melts near the source of Yellow and Yangtze rivers. The study has reported that the glacial retreat on the plateau has been very obvious, and there was direct evidence that the glaciers were retreating rapidly.(source: The Hindu,2nd Nov. 2009)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Traditional-ethnoherbological and medicinal properties of Sida plant

Sida cardifolia growing in the wild

Sida is a shrubby plant which belongs to Malvaceae, a family of flowering plants. It grows in the wild in different types of habitats like overgrazed lands, roadsides; along the sides of walls of old plant etc. It has a number of species many of which are native to India, America and other countries of the world. Sida cordifolia, S.rhombifolia, S.acuta etc. are some of its popularly known species.

Prized for its medicinal properties in Ayurveda for over 5000 years, Sida plant is widely used in Indian alternative medicine philosophy since the time immemorial. Ayurvedic physicians prescribed the decoction of sida roots with ginger in intermittent fever. It is also administered in fever accompanied with rigour. Its seeds are called as Bijabanda in Ayurveda. The powdered root bark is administered with milk and sugar as treatment for urinary urgency and leucorrhoea. Seeds are also used to treat urinary infections. They have been reported to be aphrodisiac also. The plant is reported to be well tolerated in routine doses.

A portion of Sida cardifolia showing flower and fruits

Fresh extract of leaves of sida is used in dropsy and chronic renal failure in a dose of 20ml, two to three times a day. Roots boiled in milk are used in a single daily dose for maintaining health. Paste of roots is used topically for treating inflammation.

Ayurvedic findings have revealed that the plant is aphrodisiac, analgesic, anti-inflammatory and tonic. It affects the central nervous system and provides relief from anxiety. Its extract is consumed to reduce body weight. It tones the blood pressure and improves the cardiac irregularity. It is also useful in fever, fits, Ophthalmia, rheumatism, colic and nervous disorders.The extract of the whole plant is used in spermatorrhoea. Some scholars have reported that bark of the plant is effective in curing facial paralysis and sciatica. It has also been reported to improve sexual strength. Sida oils are used topically to the sore muscles and sore joints in rheumatism and arthritis. It is diaphoretic in nature and increases perspiration and helps in lowering fever.

The heart shape-leaved sida or the Sida cordifolia has three common applications in Ayurveda- mahabaladi kwath, Bala taila, and astringent. Mahabaladi kwath is prepared by mixing seeds of the plant with other ingredients, powdering and boiling the whole material and giving to the patient for relieving muscular pain. Bala taila is used for the treatment of complaints of nervous system, stomach problems and as a cardiac tonic. Crushed leaves of the plant are used as astringent for the treatment and dressing of wounds or skin injuries.

Reports from surveys conducted in different regions reveal that sida acuta had many traditional usages that varied from regions to regions. The most popular use of sida acuta is made in the treatment of fever, headache, and infectious diseases. Many laboratory screening of the extract of the plant have also been done to show the scientific rationale behind these usages and many compounds have also been isolated from the plant. It is due to its medicinal applications that it is cultivated in many parts of India. The powdered leaves of sida rhombifolia are used to relive swelling. Its fruits are used to cure headache, the mucilage of the plant is used as an emollient and the roots are used to treat rheumatism. Sida is traditionally used to treat diarrhea in Australia. In Mexico, leaves are smoked for its simulative effects. In some parts of India, sida leaves are used in tea for the same purpose. The plant is traditionally being used as an astringent, antidote for scorpion stings and snake bites. Some traditional societies use this plant for the treatment of tuberculosis, chronic dysentery, nervous, urinary and cardiac diseases etc.

Chemical constituents of the sida extract

Chemical analysis of the extract of sida plant reveals that it contains appreciable amounts of nutrients, the details of which are mentioned below –

Proteins 74,000ppm to 347,000ppm
Carbohydrate 94,000ppm to 475,000ppm
Fiber 33,000ppm to 167,000ppm
Fat 14,000ppm to 71,000ppm
Ash 16,000ppm to 81,000ppm

Besides the above, it has also been reported that roots of sida plant contain450ppm alkaloids including ephedrine, saponine, choline, pseudoephedrine, betaphenethylamine, vaccine, hipaphorine and related indole alkaloides. Kuniata and Rapp, 2001 reported that it is due to the presence of different chemicals including alkaloids that arrow leaf sida is not liked by cattle.

Medicinal Importance of Sida plant

Roots and stems of the plant contain ephedrine, an important alkaloid. Besides this, traces of sitosterol and palmic, stearic etc. have also been isolated from this plant. According to a report, main alkaloid present in sida is asparagin. Besides this fatty oil, phytosterol, mucin, potassium nitrate, resins and acids are also known to be found in the plant extract. It is also reported that sida does not contain any tannin or glycoside.

According to recent analysis, ephedrine and y-ephedrine are major alkaloids found in the aerial parts of the plant. Besides these two, some other chemical compounds that have been isolated from the aerial parts of sida are – 6-phenyl ethyl amine, carboxylated tryptomines, qunazoline, hypaphorine, vasicinol etc. Different species of this plant have been reported to contain cryptolepine also.

Sida has been reported to contain aphrodisiac, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Its extract is reported to be a tonic in nature. It affects central nervous system and provides relief from anxiety. It is also used to reduce the body weight.
The intake of the extract of sida leaves is reported to lower the blood pressure and to improve the cardiac irregularity. However, contradictory reports have also been there. It is useful in fevers, fits, Ophthalmia, rheumatism, leucorrhoea, micturition, gonorrhea, colic, nervous disorders, and general debility.

The extract of roots of sida plant is useful in healing wounds. The extract of the whole plant is reported to be beneficial in spermatorrhoea. The bark of the stem is effective in sciatica and facial paralysis. The consumption of the juice of sida is reported to improve sexual strength.
The oil extracted from sida is used topically to sore muscles, sore joints, in arthritis and rheumatism. It is reported to be a diaphoretic in nature and to increase perspiration and thus it reduces fever. According to a study, leaves of sida can be used as infusion in treating fevers and delirium. The roots of the plant are astringent and diuretic. Its infusion is useful in cystitis, haematuria, bleeding piles, chronic dysentery etc.

Food and Agriculture Organisation.2002.Cultural practices http://www.fao.org/ag/AGP/AGPC/doc/publicat/FAOGUL2/B204.htm.2p.
Kuniata, L. and G.Rapp.2001.Biocontrol of Sida rhombifolia in Papua New Guinea

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Importance of Sida or the tea weed for animals

Sida or the tea weed can be grown as a forage crop for herbivores

Sida acuta or the tea weed is combined with clovers to create a yearlong resource of forage for deer and other herbivores. Tea weed plots are maintained in some countries as part of wildlife management. This plant is considered to be a good source of nutrition. It is less expensive to manage and maintain compared to other forages as it reseeds itself every year.

Sida or the tea weed growing in the wild with its associates

Periodic mowing or light disking are recommended and fusillade herbicide can be sprayed to control grasses competing with sida. In Florida, Sida rhombifolia is identified as a native plant which provides food and cover to many species of wildlife.Deer use this plant as forage, however species of animals like quail, rabbits and young turkeys have been reported to use tea-weed areas for holding cover and food.